Saturday, 11 October 2014

Synod14: Mercy, compassion and comprehension


As has been the case all week, interviews with synod participants emerge after the day’s sessions conclude, and yesterday saw comments from several of the Synod Fathers regarding the need to refresh the language used by the Church.

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois argued that the language used today is akin to the “technical” language used by physicians and that it is necessary to:
“find modes of expression and modes of communication that will allow [the Church] to announce the good news so that it may be heard. When a physician makes a diagnosis, he uses terms to designate precisely the disease in question, but these terms, if he tells them to the patient, he will not understand them. Therefore, he must explain the diagnosis with words that are not technical words. In theology, it is the same thing. When one addresses people to announce the good news of Christ, one does not teach a theology course. One tells them the contents of the theology but with a vocabulary they can understand. I was a professor of theology. When I taught a theology course, I did not give a sermon; that is another literary genre.”
Comments made in September by Bishop Johann Bonny of Antwerp, Belgium also underlined that couples living in irregular circumstances:
“deserve more respect and a more nuanced evaluation than the language of certain church documents appears to prescribe. The mechanisms of accusation and exclusion they have the potential to activate can only block the way to evangelization.”
And an interview with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn contained further reference to a change of mindset to one where the good is appreciated even amidst imperfection and taken as a starting point:
“I can look at an imperfect situation from two sides, and both sides are justified. I can look at what is missing, and I can see what is already there. When couples live together in a stable, faithful relationship, one could say that is not a sacramental marriage, that there is something missing, but one could also say that it is a beginning, that there is already something there. Pope Francis had encouraged the Austrian bishops to look at what was already there and to accompany it towards something more complete and more perfect.”
Cardinal Reinhard Marx applied the same optics to gay relationships:
“One simply cannot say that a faithful homosexual relationship that has held for decades is nothing, as that is too “forceful” a standpoint. We just mustn’t lump things together and measure everything with the same yardstick, but must differentiate and take a closer look, which doesn’t mean that I endorse homosexuality as a whole.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl then commented on the big picture within which the above considerations of language and the recognition of the good are set:
“I think what’s becoming more and more, at least, in my mind, it’s one thing to doctrinally state the obvious. It’s another thing to take that and get it to work in the concrete order where people live.

Now you don’t deny the doctrine, in any way, but you have to make it apply to people. That’s going to be the challenge, and I think that’s what the Holy Father is calling us to do.

He’s saying, We know this, we believe this, this is what is at the heart of our teaching. But how do you meet people where they are? And bring them as much of that as they can take, and help them get closer?

That’s going to be the challenge. That’s going to be the really difficult part. How do you help people live all the beauty of family life when some of them may not have experienced what we know to be family?”
Yesterday afternoon then saw an important move by Pope Francis (that I’d characterise as “stacking the deck,” which is not to suggest anything underhand, since the Synod is not a democratic process, but one of joint listening to the Holy Spirit and discernment, where the decisions that follow are taken by the Pope), when he appointed six additional members to the committee that will write the final report of the Synod - the “Relatio Synodi.” The new members are:
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., appointed recently by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Bishops.
Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez, rector of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina.
Archbishop Carlos Aguiar Retes of Mexico, president of CELAM, the Latin American bishops’ conference.
Archbishop Peter Kang U-Il of South Korea.
Father Adolfo Nicolás Pachón of Spain, superior general of the Jesuit order.
If you have been reading this blog at all, or even if you have only seen an earlier post on the Synod, it should be clear what this choice means for the document that is due on Monday.

Yesterday afternoon also saw the 10th and final of this week’s sessions, where “fraternal delegates” (i.e., representatives of other churches) spoke. Here the official notes expressed a great consensus among all speakers that the challenges facing the family are common to all Christians. The need for appropriate marriage preparation was a common theme too as was the desire to practice compassion, mercy and comprehension:
“[I]t is essential to listen to those who find themselves in difficult family situations, who are in need of mercy and compassion every day, as the Church wishes always to help those who suffer, looking both at the Sacred Scriptures and at the problems of contemporary life. [...] The wish was expressed for listening and comprehension, far from any form of condemnation, in relation to homosexual persons, while emphasising that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Particular attention was shown towards children born in difficult context and for all victims of violence, especially women and minors, as the defence of the most vulnerable, of those who have no voice of their own – believers or otherwise – is common to all Christians.”
Some differences were presented too:
“for example on the theme of birth control, underlining the freedom of conscience of believers, while always respecting the meaning of love and marriage. Furthermore, in relation to second marriages, it was said by the Orthodox delegates that these in any case constitute a deviation and while they are celebrated, it is after a period of accompaniment on the part of the Church in an attempt to bring married couples towards reconciliation.”